A place of worship could be the next refuge for people looking for a permanent home.
San JosÃ© and local religious leaders are proposing a change to the city’s affordable housing plans that would allow developers to build in gathering places such as churches, private clubs, lodges and theaters, bypassing the permit process and often long city approval – land the city public / quasi-public calls, or PQP.
Gathering places often have excess land, such as lawns or parking lots, which makes them attractive for housing development. The city estimates that between 300 and 500 affordable housing units can be built across San JosÃ© if the policy is approved, with places of worship being the sites most likely to be developed. The city is committed to minimizing the impact of parking as much as possible to compensate for an influx of residents.
A movement to build on church property, called Yes In God’s Backyard, or YIGBY – mirroring movements of the same name such as NIMBY and YIMBY – began among religious leaders in San Diego in the late 2010s. In 2019, San Diego City Council passed legislation eliminating parking requirements for churches and streamlining the permitting process to allow places of worship to build affordable housing.
The construction strategy at the gathering places is part of the San JosÃ© anti-displacement policy unveiled last year. Mayor Sam Liccardo included funding in his 2021-2022 budget to research the idea. This is part of the city’s ambitious goal of building 25,000 homes, including 10,000 affordable homes by 2023. The city has built 3,348 homes, of which 506 are affordable, since 2018.
âDisplacement has a lot of negative impacts,â said Kemit Mawakana, division chief in the city’s housing department. “It has an impact on education, it has an impact on vulnerable groups like the elderly.”
The housing program, if approved, is voluntary – churches, lodges and similar buildings will not be mandated to build affordable units on their land.
The city hosted a virtual meeting on Thursday as part of a two-month outreach effort to help sell the idea to residents.
The plan is already gaining ground among the coppers of the Cathedral of Faith, a Christian mega-church in central San JosÃ©. The church has been working with developer Sand Hill Property Company for more than a year on a housing project filled with affordable units on the church’s 13.4 acres – and talks with the city are still ongoing. The two-building project plans to offer 258 affordable units, according to the church. One building would be reserved for low-income families, the other for the elderly. Each building is designed as five floors.
âThe most important thing at the heart of our church is meeting the needs of our community,â said Kurt Foreman, director of operations and executive pastor of the Cathedral of Faith. âOne of the things for us as a church is always to try to address and provide solutions to community issues because we have 12,000 people who are part of our church and our community. One of the big challenges we’ve seen is affordability of housing. It’s critical and probably the biggest challenge I’ve ever seen. “
Foreman hopes the city will adopt this policy soon. According to his estimate, if the church followed the traditional planning route, it would take at least until 2025 to begin construction. With the proposed policy, the inauguration could be brought forward as early as 2023.
Some are concerned about the construction schedule of the units. Steve Lynch, director of planning and rights at Sand Hill Property Company, said he was concerned that housing projects were still taking too long to get approved.
âAll in all, the sooner we can start tackling any kind of affordable housing, any kind of housing crisis, we’ll be four years old, maybe even longer,” Lynch said. âIn the 20 years I’ve been here, homelessness has exploded in this city, and we have to do something. And honestly, four years is too long.
The city is also considering a similar zoning policy that could allow libraries, museums, airports, fire stations, convention centers, government offices and other public buildings to accommodate affordable housing.
There are 541 public / quasi-public sites in San JosÃ©, including San JosÃ© Mineta International Airport and San JosÃ© State University. Of these sites, 203 are used for gatherings, including places of worship.
Another community meeting is tentatively scheduled for November. The policy is expected to be submitted to the city’s planning commission this fall. The city council will then consider it early next year.
âIt’s a great opportunity for churches to connect. We have other ideas to make this our own version of the Google Village,â Foreman joked. “It may not be for all churches, but it is a great opportunity for churches to help.”